Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Cadence of the Modern Thought Process

Written by: on October 27, 2022

Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman was a thought-provoking “read” for me. I chose to listen to the audiobook while building a very long fence over a handful of days. I enjoy this type of project and the weather was beautiful – which is odd for late October in Michigan. Everything was seemingly set up quite nicely for a good book, prayer, and serious ‘System Two’ self-reflection. Unfortunately, I underestimated the time it would take to complete this task. To make matters worse, I lost a complete day of work because I forgot to add a gap for a gate. I was forced to start completely over on day two due to a system one error that could have easily been avoided. Stress plagued the rest of the project.  I was able to overcome it for the most part with a little help from the Spirit; however, I still feel the frustration and disappointment of losing that entire day of hard work.

This entire experience became a journey into a greater state of consciousness for me. The lessons that made the biggest impact on me fall into one of the following three categories.

  1. My behavior is determined by my thought process which can either be slow and conscious, or quick and automatic.
  2. Being patient and evaluating my response or actions before reacting or making a decision will lead to better outcomes.
  3. Emotions may influence my decision-making and need to be considered and/or tabled.

I found the case studies and explanations from Dr. Kahneman to be a revelation. It was more than just a scientific understanding of how people think and make decisions. It was a ‘wisdom guide’ and a fantastic leadership tool that will undoubtedly provide insight for me and those I lead in the future. “Thinking, Fast and Slow” divulges how our brains are influenced by error and prejudice (even when we think we’re rational) and provided an actionable technique for slower, smarter thinking.

Execution of these techniques will always be the deciding factor in my personal growth. I love to learn new things and this was enlightening and motivating for me, however, if I fail to implement the methods and understanding into my life, what benefit is it? Robert Coven explains this in his TEDx talk titled, “Breaking Through” when he describes his students that miss the point of an exercise and do not seize the opportunity to become an expert because of a limited outlook, AKA, ‘System One’ thinking. [1]

I look forward to driving these techniques into practice and continuing to grow in this form of consciousness. Ironically, he shed light on ‘System One’ decisions I have made in the past, and mistakes I was making simultaneously while listening. I wish I could claim my recent fence mistake as an “accidental measurement miscalculation,” but it was no accident. It didn’t even cross my mind when I started. I was in a rush, impulsive, and overconfident starting this entire project. I paid the price for my avoidable errors and it made me pause and contemplate what an accident really is? Is there a definitive line between a true accident and a system one error? Are they the same or related? Can I honestly just stumble over a crack in the sidewalk, or is it an error on my part for not anticipating the bump in the walkway? Is there an error consistently associated with negative outcomes?

I think many of the circumstances in my life that I’m not proud of stemmed from my automatic, ‘System One’ thinking. Errors are more prone in this line of thinking however I do not believe it’s the enemy. I feel extremely blessed to have my fight-or-flight instincts which have been lifesaving at times. On the other hand, the more information I have to make a decision is always beneficial. Auliq Ice, an investor, hedge fund manager, and philanthropist said “everything you’ve worked for can go to waste with only one wrong decision” that may happen because of incorrect or less information to which our brain reacts spontaneously. [2]

Warren Buffet, a shrewd investor and savvy businessman, is known for a famous quote that captures emotional decisions and patient thinking described in Dr. Kahneman’s book. “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.”  [3] There is a lot of wisdom in these statements and these men are not incredibly successful because they are impulsive or irrational. I do not think either of them would claim invincibility and have made plenty of mistakes. I do believe they have a high level of understanding and have developed discipline and endurance that has led to financial success.

The book and fence project became an experience that required many pauses for contemplation and deliberate ‘System Two’ thinking. Although I was frustrated by losing time and effort with the fence project, I am fortunate to not have lost something greater due to my impulsive thinking. I am grateful for the lessons in this book and pray that the Spirit continues to guide me with patience, grace, and wisdom in my future decisions and thought processes.

About the Author

Michael O'Neill

Director of Operations / Executive Pastor at Kinergy, Inc. Federal 501c3 Non-Profit Organization. An experienced entrepreneur, leader, father, wellness professional, and owner of a multi-location medical practice with my wife, Nicole O'Neill, MD.

6 responses to “Cadence of the Modern Thought Process”

  1. Kristy Newport says:


    I appreciate this quote:
    “The book and fence project became an experience that required many pauses for contemplation and deliberate ‘System Two’ thinking.”
    I believe it is wise to see how our experiences need us to, yes, require us to pause and contemplate how we might do things methodically. I know my lazy system 2 thinking needs to kick it into gear!
    The fence project was a good example!

  2. mm Chad McSwain says:

    Great analogy with your fence project and great questions. Do you have an intuition if accidents are System 1 thinking? Since System 1 is the result of prior experience, perhaps you normally build fences without gates or you have a bias against gates? Of course, it might be that you were moving quickly through the project that left gaps in your thinking instead of the fence. Thanks for the great analogy! It is fun to think through the comparison with fast and slow thinking.

  3. mm David Beavis says:

    Hey Michael,

    I’m sorry about the fence mistake. But I am thrilled it was an opportunity for reflection! I am glad you pointed out that you are grateful for the fight-or-flight instincts that you have. We should all be grateful for these instincts that are given to us for our survival. System one thinking is certainly beneficial in many instances. We must not harp on system one as the enemy. However, we ought to do what we can to interrogate the assumptions and biases that are present in system one. For we do not want to make a quick decision that will cost us greatly, as you showed with the hedge fund manager and Warren Buffett quotes.

  4. Michael, you are an inspiration and true follower of Jesus. I love that Jesus allowed for the teaching and then the life application in our own lives to make sure we understood. Sounds like you must be one of his disciples. I look forward to reading more.

  5. mm Becca Hald says:

    Hey Michael,
    Great job in the hot seat this morning on the zoom call! I love how you have related what you are learning to your life in a practical way. You commentary about accidents and faulty System 1 thinking is intriguing. I wonder how often we say something is an accident when really it was System 1 thinking. Are “accidents” as a result of System 1 thinking really accidents or are they carelessness? Whenever I brought out my good china for dinner, I would tell my kids that I would not get mad at them if something broke because of an accident, but I would get mad at them if they were careless.

  6. Alana Hayes says:

    “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.”

    Ive heard a similarity to this in the past but it is always a good reminder to keep at the forefront. Lately I have been under stress and getting “hot” quicker at situations than I normally would.

    If you have time I’d love to know how you reframed your thinking after you lost an entire day due to an error. I’m not sure that I would have handled that as well as you did.

Leave a Reply